At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."


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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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Sinead O'Connor and Leif Vollebekk at Massey Hall
Live in Limbo, October 25th

She doesn't need banter, fancy lights or projections – she has that voice, and really it was the I Do Not Want cuts that highlighted said voice that drew the biggest response. Donning a 12-string guitar for “Black Boys on Mopeds”, Sinead warned that...Read more

Empty head is a perfect fit for Leo Kottke's shows
Lexington Herald Leader, October 24th

Mentored by the great folk-blues guitar stylist John Fahey, Kottke's extraordinary fingerpicking on 6 and 12 string guitar is equal parts technique (with inspirations of folk, jazz, blues and even a fractured pop melody or two fighting for equal time...Read more

Dave Ray's music celebrated with new release
Minnesota Public Radio News, October 24th

When harmonica player Tony Glover put together a list of tunes to honor singer Dave Ray, he included several by Lead Belly, the folk and blues musician whose songs and work on the 12-string guitar captivated inspired legions, even if fame came only...Read more

7 Scary Things To Do This Weekend In Kansas City
KCUR, October 23rd

Whether playing blues, folk, rock, jazz, bluegrass or classical tunes, Kotke's uncanny mastery of both the six-string and 12-string guitar has sent shivers down spines since he emerged as a finger-picking force of nature in the early 1970s. In other...Read more

Daily Calendar
Port Huron Times Herald, October 22nd

Featuring Neil Jacobs World 12-string guitar. St. Clair County Community College Fine Arts Theatre, 323 Erie St., Port Huron. (810) 989-5709. Free. Second performance: 7 p.m.. Golden Agers, 2 p.m. With entertainment by The Angel Quartet. Salvation Army ...Read more

Leo Kottke Shows Off Guitar Playing and Storytelling Abilities
Cleveland Scene Weekly, October 20th

Mid-show, he switched to 12-string guitar, which provided an even better showcase for his guitar playing ability as he played it both with and without a slide. “Gewerbegebiet,” a song he introduced by saying “the Germans did for the consonant what the ...Read more

SC4 free concerts to feature 12-string guitar player
Port Huron Times Herald, October 11th

St. Clair County Community College's Thursday Noon and Night Concert Series will continue Oct. 23 with 12-string guitar player Neil Jacobs. The concert will be at both noon and 7 p.m. in the Fine Arts Theatre on the college's Port Huron campus. Jacobs ...Read more

Rockler Adds 12-String and Bass Electric Guitar Kits - High-quality Kits are ...
Virtual-Strategy Magazine (press release), September 24th

Rockler Woodworking and Hardware has introduced Electric 12-string and Bass Guitar Kits - the latest members in a family of musical instrument kits that includes six-string acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, and violin kits. Once completed, the...Read more